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Keeping it European

In these feverish Brexit days and whole new challenges for universities as we try to come to terms with what our future place in Europe will be it was a real privilege to engage with colleagues from across the EU recently at the HUMANE Winter School in Barcelona.
This article is more than 7 years old

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.

In these feverish Brexit days and whole new challenges for universities as we try to come to terms with what our future place in Europe will be it was a real privilege to engage with colleagues from across the EU recently at the HUMANE Winter School in Barcelona.

For those not familiar with HUMANE it is a 20 year old European network of university administrative leaders which offers a range of interesting events each year:

HUMANE, the Heads of University Management and Administration Network in Europe, was set up in 1997 with the aim or grouping all heads of university administration in Europe in a network, devoted to professional development by sharing best practices. We have some 170 members in 26 different European countries. HUMANE is a non profit association registered in Belgium with the Secretariat based in Brussels. Our Chairman is Esa Hämäläinen, Director of Administration at the University of Helsinki. Our activities include:

Seminars – one of the main activities of the network is the two day seminars organised for members four times a year. The seminars bring together speakers both from inside and outside on important issues of the day. With a low maximum attendance, these seminars are always good forums of discussion and sharing experiences. In the last years we have coved issues such as: – university mergers – benchmarking – funding/fundraising – ICT as an administrative challenge – relations between the university and the state – sustainable universities – and many more.

Winter School – the EFMD-HUMANE Winter School is a week long intensive training course for up and coming senior administrators. Started in 2003, it has become the benchmark programme to develop the leadership potential of outstanding administrators. HUMANE also looks after the alumni of the Winter School by hosting the Winter School Alumni Network.

Study Trips – taking small groups from universities to a host university that is recognised as being a leader in a specific area and immersing the group in that expertise. The goal is to move beyond a mere exchange programme, encouraging effective transfer of knowledge and experiences.

Study Tours – taking small groups from universities to a different country and visiting three universities – keeping a common theme throughout the tour and seeing from threes different institutions.

I’ve only recently become involved and was surprised to discover that with 25 member universities the UK involvement in the network is significant. It’s not quite clear to me how Australia got involved but I guess it’s a bit like Eurovision in the desire to be inclusive and so it would seem churlish to question it.

Given the forthcoming 20th anniversary of the founding of HUMANE there is an extremely interesting looking conference to celebrate this event which is focusing on crisis leadership in universities:

Consistent with the global higher education challenges themes of recent annual conferences, the Paris Anniversary Conference will focus on Crisis leadership in universities in a globalised world. The increased risk of violent incidents such as terrorist attacks, combined with the ubiquitous impact of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, mean that university leaders are often faced with existential crisis leadership challenges. Most crises cannot be predicted; but the institutional response can be controlled. Well led responses to crises in universities can have a lasting and positive impact on institutional culture and reputation. A poor response can saddle an institution with socio-cultural, political and economic problems for years to come.

The Winter School though is one of the signature events in the HUMANE calendar:

The HUMANE – EFMD Winter School develops the leadership potential of talented Senior Managers by making them fully aware of the concepts and practices of strategic management in a European context, and the importance of integrating academic matters, finances, human resources, governance, leadership and communication strategy in the elaboration of university strategy.

The Winter School focuses on leadership skills and the “big picture” of management (how to identify and implement necessary changes). However, the context of university life and the developing scene across Europe provide a unifying thread – this is not just “yet another” management course.

Participants thus gain experience in making informed choices in decision-making processes.The Winter School uses the experience of EFMD and HUMANE members to give unique first-hand insight into general problems. The geographical and cultural spread of our members ensure that this discussion is not system-specific.

This year’s Winter School which took place recently in Barcelona drew over 40 administrators from all over Europe (and beyond) with participants from the UK, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, New Zealand, Spain, Italy and Australia.

The programme is highly intensive, including plenary sessions and practical work in small groups based on international case studies. The case study focus in the last two years has been the internationalisation strategies of two institutions, the University of Nottingham and Maastricht University.

At the last two Winter Schools I’ve enjoyed presenting on this with a particular focus on Nottingham’s campuses in Asia and it’s been terrific to see how the participants engage with the material, working incredibly hard in teams to respond to one of the case studies and then present to another team who role play a University Executive Board. Their case study submissions and presentations are assessed by a selection of old hands, including former Winter School participants, and feedback provided in front of the whole group. The work though is of a pretty consistently high standard as you might expect from this kind of group.

Winter School feedback session

Many of those who have participated in the Winter School over the years have progressed to senior leadership positions in European universities and continue to engage in the programme. There is also a thriving alumni network too:

The Winter School Alumni Network (WSAN) brings together everyone who has graduated from HUMANE/EFMD’s annual Winter School in Spain.

The Winter School Alumni Network was set up in 2003 by participants of the first Winter School, as part of HUMANE’s provision for university professionals at all stages of their careers.

Today, the Winter School Alumni Network has over 440 members from 168 universities in 25 different countries.

The latest development in HUMANE is a venture into Asia as for the first time this Autumn there is going to be an Asia-Pacific School at the University of Hong Kong.

The main thing for me though is that the Winter School, other related events and the HUMANE network more broadly, remains a vital vehicle for continuing European engagement, dialogue and support. So, no matter what the future turns out to be politically for the UK and whatever Brexit actually means in practice, I do think that this network, and many others like it, will continue to sustain a meaningful relationship across European universities.

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